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from that moment onwards

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It started with a hand-drawn portrait of Yuuri with a halo of flowers atop his head.

 

Earlier that week, Yuuri had been told that he and his mother were to travel to the neighboring kingdom to the north to meet with the ruling family there. “There is a boy around your age there,” his mother told him with a secret smile. “Victor is his name. I’m sure you two will be great friends.”

 

Yuuri knew of Prince Victor, had learned about him and the other princes and princesses in his lessons from Minako, and knew also that he was two years his senior. Minako often called him prodigy for his innate grasp on politics and people, a sharp contrast to Yuuri’s awkward, if not outright distant, way of interacting with his peers.

 

So while Yuuri wanted to be excited to travel, he was not looking forward to meeting the prince. “What if he doesn’t like me?” he asked his mother often, worry a constant in his gut as the day for their leave drew closer. “What if he doesn’t want to be friends with me?”

 

“He’ll like you just fine,” his mother assured him. She stroked his hair, offered him a smile that simultaneously soothed him and did nothing to help the worry twisting in his stomach. “Prince Victor can’t wait to meet you, Yuuri. Did you know the queen told me he has a surprise for you when we there?”

 

“Really?” Yuuri asked, skeptical. Even though he was young, Yuuri was one to doubt before anything else.

 

“I promise,” his mother told him, and Yuuri went quiet.

 

The days passed by, Yuuri ever-increasingly anxious as they prepared to leave. His worries only grew during the trip there - a ride for what felt like eons followed by a shorter but no less unnervingly long trip across the sea separating the two kingdoms - and it wasn’t until he stepped down to the port that they were banished altogether.

 

It was easy to spot the royal family. They were decked in blues and purples, shimmering with silver, and Yuuri had frozen on spot at the sight of them. The shortest and youngest of the three, Prince Victor, broke away to stand before Yuuri with the widest grin Yuuri had ever seen. He held up a piece of parchment up to Yuuri’s face, peeking out over the edge to see his reaction. On it was a detailed drawing of Yuuri adorned with flowers.

 

“It's you!” the prince with pretty blue eyes said as he handed the portrait over to Yuuri, and Yuuri flushed under his bright grin, both embarrassed and pleased that someone so talented drew a picture of him. “Do you like it? Should I change the colors?”

 

In the portrait, the colors of his clothes matched the ones of the flag of his home, deep reds and gold that were familiar and soothing, though the flowers were much lighter, made of blues and whites that twined and weaved together, strung with the green of leaves and stems. It was beautiful, and Yuuri clutched it close to his chest and shook his head.

 

“No,” he said, his earlier hesitation fading. He shyly returned the prince’s grin with a smile of his own. “I like it. Thank you.”

 

Behind him, his mother giggled. Yuuri felt heat creep up his ears and tried his best not to hide behind his new gift.

 

“It looks like we were worried about nothing,” his mother said, patting Yuuri on the head. “Prince Victor here is very kind.”

 

Yuuri nodded, then glanced up at Victor to see him preening under the praise. When he caught Yuuri’s eyes, the slightest hint of pink dusted his cheeks.

 

“Yuuri is very pretty!” he blurted out. Then, as if realizing his outburst, he clamped his mouth shut, the pink in his cheeks becoming a very captivating red.

 

Yuuri averted his eyes down to his shuffling feet, but he was smiling so wide that it hurt. A deep, throaty laugh came from behind Victor - from King Alexandr who stood tall and regal with his queen.

 

“Welcome to our home,” he said, the echoes of his laughter teasing the edges of his voice. “We’re honored to have you here, Queen Hiroko, as well as Prince Yuuri. Victor has been beside himself waiting for your arrival.”

 

“The honor is ours,” his mother said, and when Yuuri peeked a glance up, he locked eyes with Victor, who broke out into a smile Yuuri couldn’t help but reciprocate. “Thank you for having us for the winter.”

 

“And for many winters afterwards, it looks like,” Queen Nadezhda said, smiling. “Vitya has never taken to someone else quite as quick as he has your son. I can only hope that good things are in store for them in the future.”

 

“Yes,” his mother agreed. Yuuri was too focused on Victor and the way lights danced in his eyes to see her warm gaze. “I hope so, too.”

 

 


 

The next, as it happened, was not too long afterwards. It was a month into Yuuri’s stay when Victor appeared before him in the library in a sudden whirlwind of warmth and too-bright smiles, asking:

 

“Do you like flowers, Yuuri?”

 

Yuuri did, very much so. However: “I do, but they die so fast,” Yuuri admitted, twiddling his thumbs with something akin to embarrassment. “I don’t know how to take care of them.”

 

Mari always teased him for it, the fact that any plant - even a small cactus she’d gifted him on his last birthday with the belief that he could at least take care of that - seemed to wilt and die under his diligent - sometimes desperate - care. He’d always been a little self-conscious of that fact, and he was doubly more so now that Victor was asking.

 

“Oh,” Victor said. He shifted on his feet, and Yuuri caught a glimpse of something blue hidden behind his back. Curious, Yuuri leaned over to the right, wanting to see what it was Victor was hiding, but then Victor took a step back, pressed against the great oak door, and said, “That’s - That’s all I wanted to know. Thank you, Yuuri. Goodbye!”

 

“Wait!“ Yuuri started, but before he could say another word, Victor was gone. “... Goodbye.”

 

A little hurt by Victor’s quick retreat, Yuuri stared down at the text he had been reading before Victor came but found himself unable to focus on it. He shut it and set it aside after a minute of rereading the same line, then laid out across the chair on his side when he made sure no one else was around. He curled up and stared at the door Victor all but ran out of. There was…

 

There was something there.

 

On the floor where Victor had stood was a single blue rose petal.

 

“Oh,” Yuuri said when he went to pick it up. Victor had wanted to give him flowers, but Yuuri’s response had probably made him rethink his decision. It was for the best, Yuuri told himself. Blue roses were native only to Victor’s kingdom, cherished and miraculous. They’d only wilt under Yuuri’s hand, not flourish as they’re meant to.

 

Still, Yuuri’s shoulders drew up to his ears, and he clutched at his chest, his expression twisting in confusion. It hurt to think about Victor’s gift, of not receiving it because of Yuuri’s careless reply. There was something in his chest twisting and clenching and writhing, and Yuuri didn’t understand it.

 

He wanted Victor’s flowers, even though he knew they’d die days afterwards. He wanted them, but Victor probably wouldn’t give them to him anymore now that he knew that Yuuri couldn’t take care of them.

 

A noise escaped his lips, and Yuuri scrubbed at his face to drive away the gloom.

 

It was fine. It was. Victor wouldn’t like his gift to go to waste, anyway. Yuuri understood.

 

Weeks passed, and eventually Yuuri all but forgot about Victor's intended gift amidst Victor’s exuberant tour tours of the palace and his relieving kindness, unfurling and opening up under the light of Victor's smiles. The ache that had plagued his chest the first few days was all but gone now, and Yuuri instead relished in Victor’s attention, which he gave in spades.

 

“.. and if we are meant to be happy,” Yuuri read aloud, Victor a warm presence pressed beside him, “then we will search always for that ef- … ef-fer…”

 

“Eff-er-ve-scent,” Victor sounded out slowly, his finger trailing over the letters. The book was laid between them on their legs, wide and heavy: a collection of tales.

 

“Eff-er-ve-scent,” Yuuri repeated, and when he looked up for confirmation, Victor nodded his head, smiling. Yuuri looked back down at the book, his cheeks warm. “We will search always for that eff-er-ve-scent future.”

 

They were in the library today after Victor had asked Yuuri where he wanted to go, and after Yuuri had haltingly said he’d like to go to the library, Victor had quickly persuaded Yuuri, who couldn’t bring himself to say no to Victor’s excited eyes, to read to him whatever it was that caught his attention. Victor had helped Yuuri get the book off of the shelf and wasted no time at all setting up on the sofa that Yuuri often used whenever he was reading, patting the space beside him until Yuuri slowly inched closer.

 

Victor smiled at him - and Yuuri wondered if he ever stopped smiling because he always was whenever he looked at Yuuri - and said, “That was amazing, Yuuri!”

 

Squirming at the praise, Yuuri ducked his head and said, “Thank you, Victor, but I- I couldn’t read some words, and you had to help me read it all, so…” He trailed off, not knowing how to refute Victor’s words without sounding rude.

 

“You know two languages,” Victor retorted, and he ducked his head so that he could look at Yuuri’s averted eyes. “Yuuri, you’re so smart! I didn’t learn how to speak Nihongo until last year, and you can already speak Russkiy .”

 

“But you know how to speak four language,” Yuuri said. He glanced over at Victor to find him pouting.

 

Yuuri ,” Victor whined. He leaned heavily on Yuuri, groaning, and Yuuri’s hands fluttered about as he tried to figure out what to do with Victor.

 

“Ah- Victor, I’m sorry,” Yuuri tried, but Victor just groaned louder like Yuuri’s apology physically pained him, and Yuuri couldn’t help but break out into a smile. “Victor, you’re heavy - ah, wait, Victor, the book!”

 

Yuuri slapped a hand on the book between them, breathing out a sigh when he managed to save the page they left off on before the book could fully close. When Victor pulled back, he eyed Yuuri’s hand sandwiched between the pages, and his eyes lit up.

 

“Wait here,” Victor said before he jumped up from the sofa and hastily made his way to the door. He looked over his shoulder before he opened it and promised, “I’ll be right back!”

 

“O-okay,” Yuuri said, bewildered, and Victor left with one last smile. He looked down at the book and opened it back to the page they were on, memorizing the page number for later before setting it aside.

 

It wasn’t long before Victor came back, but he only stuck his head through the doorway to catch Yuuri’s attention and said, “Yuuri, close your eyes.” When Yuuri hesitated, Victor added, “Please.”

 

With a glance at Victor, Yuuri shut his eyes. What was Victor doing? What did he leave for, and why did he ask Yuuri to close his eyes? A bit wary, Yuuri played with the edge of his shirt, listening as Victor came closer until he was standing right before Yuuri.

 

“Okay,” he said, “you can look now.”

 

Yuuri did, and the first thing he saw was Victor’s pink-cheeked grin. He looked down and saw that Victor was holding something out to him, and what Yuuri noticed first was the blue rose, pressed and crisp.

 

“It’s a bookmark,” Victor said when Yuuri stared for a moment too long in silence. He shifted on his feet, and when Yuuri made no move to touch it, much less take it, he added, “I made it for you.”

 

Yuuri looked up at him, eyes wide with surprise. “For me?”

 

Victor nodded, glad that Yuuri was saying something. “I wanted to give you flowers, but then you said… so I tried to think of something else - “ Yuuri blinked, speechless “ - and then Mama said that I could press them and still give you flowers, and you wouldn’t even have to take care of them.”

 

“Oh,” Yuuri breathed, something warm curling in his chest. He took the bookmark with both hands, unable to fight back his smile when he looked up at Victor. “Thank you so much, Victor. I love it.”

 

The pink in Victor’s cheeks darkened, became something rosy and delighted. “I’m glad.”

 


 

 

When it came time for Yuuri to leave, he was reluctant. Victor, too, couldn’t bring himself to smile as bright as he usually did.

 

“I’ll send you gifts,” Victor assured. “We’ll see each other next winter.”

 

Yuuri nodded, clutched his mother’s sleeve, and tried to smile, too. “Next winter,” he promised, and something more genuine pulled at Victor’s lips. “I’ll give you things, too.”

 

Victor laughed. “I’ll hold you to that. Until next winter, Yuuri.”

 

“Until next winter.”

 

The years passed by like that: spring, summer, and autumn spent at his home or traveling to other lands with his father or mother, sending Victor trinkets or books or anything he thought Victor might like as time crawled by, and receiving some in turn; winter was spent at Victor’s home, in Victor’s care, under his small touches that made Yuuri flush, sometimes, when he thought about them too much. Yuuri couldn’t remember being happier, knowing that somewhere Victor was waiting just as Yuuri was for him.

 

One summer, Victor sent him pressed dandelions - bookmarks, again, because he knew Yuuri’s appetite for literature was insatiable and so gifted him ones with different flowers each year. They are weeds, supposedly, Victor wrote in the accompanying note, but they are beautiful all the same. I thought they suited you.

 

Usually, Victor’s little notes never failed to make Yuuri feel warm - whether it be out of flattery or embarrassment - but this time Yuuri read the note and felt the grip of something unpleasant but familiar take hold of him. He brushed his fingers over one of the bookmarks, traced the stem of the dandelion up to its golden petals, and felt chilling uncertainty touch his heart. It was beautiful, that much was certain, but…

 

Weed , Victor had wrote, and Yuuri fixated on that, turned it over in his head and murmured it aloud. He looked over at his latest read lying on his desk, marked with a pressed, purple chrysanthemum, then back to Victor’s latest gift and bit his lip in indecision.

 

In all the time they spent together, Victor was never cruel to him. He’d tease, sometimes, just to make Yuuri color pink, but never more than that, never anything that would intentionally hurt Yuuri’s feelings the way the implications of weed and they suited you churned in his gut. With that in mind, a tremulous hope, Yuuri switched out the bookmarks and tried not to let the bright gold of the dandelion hurt his heart too much.

 

He would ask Victor. Later, when winter came. Now, Yuuri penned him a letter expressing his thanks and sought his mind for something Victor might delight in receiving, giving into the distraction.

 

Victor sent him a handful of other gifts during the time between: a light-weight blanket that held heat with surprising ease after Yuuri’s letter about the chilly autumn, a book about the lands further west where his friend Christophe lived, a glass figurine of a dog the length of Yuuri’s forefinger wrapped in several layers of protective fabric, and a single blue rose at the start of winter with a note attached.

 

I cannot wait to see you again .

 

Spirits lifted, Yuuri prepared for his stay with renewed vigor and resolved to talk to Victor about the dandelions once he got there just to be rid of the stubborn thoughts that clung to his mind. Unfortunately, when he and his mother stepped down onto the port, greeted by only the king this winter, Yuuri knew something was wrong.

 

“Welcome back,” the king greeted them. His mother replied back, but the response was lost on Yuuri, who stared at the king beseechingly. He smiled at him, kind but tired, and told him, “Victor has been ill, so he wasn’t able to come and greet you this time, and Nadezhda stayed back to look after him. Tell Yuuri I said hello and that he shouldn’t worry , he said.”

 

Yuuri opened his mouth, searched for words to say in reply, but could only bring forth a quiet, “Oh.”

 

“Be at ease,” the king told him, still smiling. “Victor has made sure that you will be able to visit him even in his ill state. Clearly, he is not so sick that he cannot meet with his intended.”

 

Yuuri colored at that - intended , a stark reminder of why Yuuri and Victor met in the first place - and bowed his head. “I hope he recovers quickly.”

 

“Victor is strong, and stubborn. He will pull through just fine.” The king brightened. “Now then, let us go to the palace.”

 

As the king strode ahead of them, speaking in low tones to the accompanying knight that came with him, his mother pressed close and patted his arm. “Don’t look so down, dear,” she said, gentle. “Victor will be all right.”

 

“I know,” Yuuri said, because he did know. Victor was healthy and strong, like the king had said, and was never one to stay sick for long, if at all. Yuuri couldn’t help but worry anyway. “I’d like to see him soon, though.”

 

His mother giggled as Yuuri helped her up into the carriage. “Of course you do, dear.”

 

Lost in thought as he was, the trip went by swiftly, and before long Yuuri was comfortable in the guest room set aside for him for these annual winter visits. His mother had a separate room closer to the king and queen’s quarters for the sake of convenience, though she had left him with a kiss to his cheek and a promise to see him at dinner after she was finished speaking with King Alexandr.

 

Restless, Yuuri grabbed a book from his luggage and went in search of Victor with the help of some passing maids who pointed him in the right direction until he realized that he was headed towards Victor’s rooms. When he stood before the grand, polished bedroom door, he hesitated for a moment before he knocked.

 

“Enter,” Victor said from beyond the door, his voice rough and faint.

 

Yuuri pushed the door open and immediately spotted Victor propped up against the head of his bed with dozens of pillows. Several duvets were spread across his lap, layered and heavy, though Victor himself only wore a thin dress shirt that looked soaked through with perspiration. Victor’s eyes lit up at the sight of him.

 

“Yuuri,” he said, tangible warmth in his voice as a weak smile pulled at his lips. “How are you?”

 

“I should be asking you,” Yuuri retorted as he sat down in the armchair by Victor’s bedside. He set his book in his lap and let his eyes roam Victor’s weary face, felt something twist at how visibly exhausted this illness was making him. “Are you all right, Victor?”

 

“I will be,” Victor assured him. His eyes slid over to the book in Yuuri’s lap, and his demeanor brightened. “You’re using the bookmark.”

 

Yuuri started. “I.. “ He bit back the question on the tip of his tongue. This was no time for that, not when Victor was as ill as he was. “Yes, I - I am.”

 

“Do you like it? When Christophe showed the dandelions to me, my first thought was of you.” Victor released a heavy breath and smiled still as he gaze at Yuuri. “Did you know these were growing in a place of drought? Amazing, aren’t they, these willful flowers. Stubborn like someone I know.”

 

Yuuri looked down at the bookmark and felt his chest hurt for reasons other than the familiar spite of weed . “... Oh,” Yuuri breathed, and he felt like the biggest idiot to walk this earth. Heat touched his cheeks when Yuuri covered his face with both hands to hide the relieved smile that pulled at the corners of his lips. “ Oh . I am such an idiot.”

 

Face covered, Yuuri didn’t see the way Victor sagged against the pillows, the way his head tipped back as if in pain. “I can assure you that you are very smart, Yuuri,” Victor said, voice strained. He clutched at his chest, let out a gasp that had Yuuri jolting upright, and had the gall to laugh even as he fought for breath. “Yuuri… can you call for - for Mama.”

 

With sweat beaded across his brow, Victor was breathing heavily despite his stubborn smile, nearly curled into himself as he fisted the silk of his shirt. Yuuri didn't want to leave with Victor in this state. “Victor- “

 

“Please,” Victor cut in. His smile faltered. “When you bring her… please don't come in.”

 

Yuuri paused, and when it was certain that Victor would not back down from this, Yuuri forced himself to back away. “I - I won't, if that's what you wish.”

 

“Thank you, Yuuri.”

 

With one lingering glance at Victor, Yuuri sped through the doors and nearly collided into Queen Nadezhda just down the hall in his haste. She steadied him with a gentle hand on his shoulder and looked at him with kind eyes. Behind her, an attendant carried a small, covered basket, probably containing medicine for Victor.

 

“What is it, Yuuri, that has you running down the hall?” she asked, then, as if realizing where Yuuri had came from, her eyes sharpened. “Is it Victor?”

 

“Yes, Your Majesty, he’s- “

 

“Presenting, I take it,” the queen finished, blunt as could be. She strode passed him in a flutter of silks, motioning for a startled Yuuri to follow, and told him, “I anticipated this once he fell ill. It’s not uncommon, see, for sickness to precede the actual presentation, though it isn’t common for it to be so taxing like it is for Victor. I warned him before you arrived that his presentation could happen any moment, and it looks as though it decided to start now.”

 

Presenting , Yuuri thought. That was why Victor asked him not to come in. He followed the queen almost mindlessly, feeling faint, but he tried his best to catch what she was telling him.

 

“Unfortunately, he will be weak,” the queen said as they arrived back to Victor’s room. Yuuri hesitated when the queen opened the door without preamble, and he caught the slightest glimpse of Victor curled on his side, the blankets and duvets thrown haphazardly away from his heated body. The queen looked back at him when she realized Yuuri wasn’t following. “Is something the matter? You won’t affect or be affected by an alpha in rut, unpresented as you are, if that is what you’re worried about.”

 

“Victor asked me not to come inside,” Yuuri hedged, feeling a touch off-footed by the queen’s raised brow.

 

She glanced over to Victor, who was quiet but for his harsh breaths, and said, “Very well, then. If you would like, you can wait there. I will be done in just a moment.”

 

The door swung shut before Yuuri could reply, but true to her word, the queen appeared a few minutes later with a reassuring smile. “He will be in there for some time, given the intensity of his rut, but he will be fine, Yuuri.”

 

Yuuri sagged in relief. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”

 

“Think nothing of it,” the queen said. “Come, let us find Sasha and Hiroko and tell them of Victor’s presentation.”

 

Days dragged by after that, Yuuri wandering the halls of the palace from sheer restlessness. The library did little to soothe his nerves, and the garden reminded him too much of Victor to keep his thoughts from straying back to him. Occasionally, he’d pass by Victor’s room just to quell some anxious part of him, but more often than not Victor was silent, or his muffled moans had Yuuri flushing and scurrying away, feeling like the worst kind of voyeur.

 

On the fifth day, Yuuri woke up to a bundle of flowers delivered to him by one of the servants.

 

“From his highness,” the young man said. “He asked for your presence in the central library as well.”

 

Taking the bouquet, Yuuri thanked and dismissed him with the assurance that he would meet with Victor promptly. He played with the ribbon that bound the stems together as he tried to will himself out of his room, thoughts that had crossed his mind these passed few days coming back in a rush.

 

Victor was an alpha now. How should Yuuri act towards him? Before it’d been easy; they had both been unpresented, both nearly the same in status, and while they were arranged to be wed some time in the future, their friendship had been put in higher regard. Would that change now because of Victor’s presentation?

 

Yuuri thumbed one of the petals, drew strength from the fact that Victor had gifted him flowers like he always did, and made his way to the library. Thankfully, the walk was short, but as Yuuri stood before the closed doors, he felt himself hesitate. His fingers brushed against the brass handle, but before Yuuri could open the door himself, they burst open from the inside.

 

“Yuuri!” Victor exclaimed, eyes glimmering with their usual light now. He looked a bit harried, like he’d run his hands through his hair several times - something he only did when he overthought things - and Yuuri wondered what happened. “I’ve been waiting for you. Come in!”

 

Yuuri started, hesitantly meeting Victor’s kind blue eyes before dropping them down to somewhere over his shoulder. Something like bashfulness had heat settling in Yuuri’s cheeks at the intensity of Victor’s gaze. “Ah - yes.”

 

He took a step forward and nearly jumped when Victor’s hand closed around his, leading him into the library with a secretive smile on his lips. “Close your eyes,” he said, and Yuuri had the strangest sense of deja vu, thought of a Victor a few years ago who’d given him the first of many bookmarks, but shut his eyes. They came to a stop, eventually, and Victor squeezed his hand. “Let me go get your gift.”

 

“Gift?” Yuuri echoed. He adjusted the grip he had on the bouquet of flowers from earlier. “Weren’t the flowers…?”

 

Victor laughed. “No, no, not those. Those were just because I thought they’d make you happy - “ Here, Yuuri blushed, hot and dizzying. Victor’s voice went a bit distant as he turned and walked away. “ - This is my actual gift. You always said that winters here were cold, so I… I had something made for you.”

 

It took a moment for Victor to make his way back to him, but when he did he murmured a quiet, “Don’t move,” and draped something over his shoulders, clicking a clasp into place.

 

It was heavy but soft to the touch and incredibly warm, and it ended somewhere at his calves. Shifting, Yuuri didn’t need to open his eyes to know that it was fur that brushed against the skin of his neck and cheeks.

 

Victor didn’t say anything for a long moment, and Yuuri was wondering what it was that made him pause when Victor finally spoke up, his voice barely above a whisper: “You can open your eyes, though I’m afraid that I didn’t think to bring a mirror.”

 

Opening them, Yuuri first noticed the color: blue, just a shade lighter than the roses Victor had given him. The fur collar that tickled his skin also lined the hem of the velvet cloak, pure white that looked as soft as it felt. The inside was lined with silver silk, and Yuuri allowed himself a moment to admire it all before a realization came to him.

 

These - these were Victor’s colors. The blues and whites and silvers of the Nikiforov family.

 

“A-Ah,” Yuuri managed to choke out, determinedly avoiding Victor’s gaze. His face was unbearably hot, and he clutched the flowers to his chest with both hands, unsure if he should even be wearing this cloak, much less touching it. “This is - beautiful, Victor, but I can’t possibly- “

 

“You look wonderful.” The breathless quality to Victor’s voice had Yuuri meeting his eyes in surprise if nothing else. Victor was staring at him as though he was made of miracles, color high in his cheeks and in the tips of his ears. His lips parted as if to say something, but all he did was suck in a breath and continue to stare at Yuuri with his mouth agape.

 

Yuuri squirmed under his gaze, and he was certain his face was red-hot.

 

“Resplendent,” Victor murmured, awed. Unable to face Victor’s mortifying honesty, Yuuri hid behind the bouquet of flowers. “Captivating, absolutely beautiful.”

 

“Victor…”

 

Gentle hands drew the flowers from his face, and Yuuri was met with the full force of Victor’s gaze in close quarters. “Amazing,” he said. He leaned in close, nearly bumping their foreheads together, and whispered, “You smell like…” He cut himself off with small, quiet laugh. “Wow.”

 

Yuuri blinked. Smell like?

 

Before Yuuri could say anything, though, Victor stepped away. He was smiling, but there was a strained quality to it that had Yuuri both curious and confused.

 

“Keep it,” Victor said, his words nearly a plea.

 

With Victor looking at him like that, Yuuri couldn’t bring himself to tell him no.

 


 

The next year, it was Victor who caught onto Yuuri’s sudden heat before it could fully pull him under. He didn’t remember much aside from the searing heat in his veins and in his gut that had his legs buckling beneath him, though he did remember the feeling of Victor’s arms firm around him and hearing Victor’s voice barking orders to the people around them, sharp and powerful, before everything went hazy.

 

Yuuri’s heat passed with no incident other than his embarrassment in the aftermath, bare and sticky and surrounded by toys provided, probably, from the queen, and though he was quick to bathe himself, warm water and soothing oils did little for the ache between his legs and in his overworked hands, and so they remained a stark reminder in the days afterwards.

 

The world, too, seemed to change with his presentation. Everything smelled stronger, sharper, and things that he previously hadn’t been able to smell at all suddenly had that depth to them. People had an additional, unique scent to them that Yuuri tried to get used to, his new sensitivity making relatively light smells strong enough to daze if he breathed in too much.

 

Mostly, though, it was him that changed. There was an urge in his chest, sometimes, that pulled him to stand close to anyone around him - Victor, mostly, as he was nearly always the one closest to him in any given moment of the day. At first, he tried to curb it and fought the urge back, embarrassed by his clinginess and mortified by what Victor might think, but Victor had quelled his worries frighteningly easily.

 

“I don’t mind,” he had told Yuuri on a particularly bad day, when all Yuuri had wanted to do was curl against Victor and stay there. He had taken Yuuri’s hand from where it’d been curled into a white-knuckled fist at his side, tugged him closer until he could wrap both arms around him, and nuzzled into Yuuri’s hair. “Is this all right?”

 

It had felt so satisfying being enclosed in Victor’s warmth and scent that Yuuri had all but melted against him, answering his question with a low, unconscious purr.

 

Despite their new status as alpha and omega, and like after Victor’s presentation the previous year, there was little that changed between he and Victor. Yuuri waited and waited and waited, anxious for the moment where everything between them would change, but it never did - at least, not in the way Yuuri thought it would: terribly and painfully.

 

“Are you sure this is all right?” Yuuri asked when Victor pressed a carefully wrapped box into his hands. Another gift from Victor’s travels during the rest of the year, one Victor had alluded to often enough in their letters that Yuuri had spent nearly an entire season waiting in anticipation for it. Now, though, reservations churned in his gut. “Now that I’m presented, others might think…” That you're courting me, Yuuri couldn't bring himself to say.

 

Victor gave him an amused look and said, “Yuuri, we’ve been promised to each other for years now. I think I’m allowed to spoil my intended with gifts.”

 

“Yes, but…” He bit his lip, tried to sort out his worries enough to give voice to them. “It doesn’t mean you have to, or want to. I’m sure- in your travels, that you’ve met someone that - someone that you’d like to properly court, as an alpha.”

 

Age-old instincts were difficult to break out of, after all. It was common for alphas to court their intended half, whether they were an omega or beta or even another alpha. It was a much more serious affair than what he and Victor had been doing these past few years, even with all the thought and heart Yuuri had put into each of Victor’s gifts.

 

Courting was a promise, to please and provide and protect, a show of unfailing love. To make Victor continue with their gift-giving now, despite what they were to each other and because of what they were now, would be selfish of Yuuri after the kindness Victor had given him. Victor should be able to court someone he truly cared about, regardless of their arranged marriage and no matter how it hurt Yuuri to think about it.

 

“I did meet someone, yes,” Victor said, breaking Yuuri out of his thoughts with a jab to his heart. “Not on any of my travels, though.”

 

“Oh,” Yuuri replied. Then, because proof that Yuuri’s worst thoughts had been true was not enough ammunition against his heart, he asked, “Are you happy with them?”

 

Victor smiled, a soft and wondrous thing that had Yuuri averting his gaze to his feet in shame. “Always.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“Yes. I love him.”

 

“Oh,” Yuuri said again. “You should court him, then. I can… I can talk to my mother and - “

 

“I’ve already spoken with her,” Victor cut in, and Yuuri could hear the smile in his voice. “She gave me her permission as well as her blessing to begin the courtship, though it was mostly out of propriety than anything else. I’m certain I’ve been courting you ever since we first met, Yuuri.”

 

“Oh,” Yuuri whispered before the entirety of Victor’s words caught up to him, but when they did he jerked his gaze back up to meet Victor’s twinkling eyes. “You- What?”

 

“I would like to court you, Yuuri,” Victor said plainly, and even then Yuuri couldn't bring himself to believe it. Stepping closer, he settled his hands atop of Yuuri's where they clutched the box close and looked at him with uninhibited adoration in his eyes. “Properly, from now on, as alpha and omega, and as Victor and Yuuri, because I love you.”

 

Yuuri's heart hurt. His hands were trembling underneath the steady heat of Victor's hands. “Not because you don't have a choice?” he asked in a small voice.

 

“I had a choice,” Victor said, soft, “and I chose you.”

 

Breathing in a shuddering breath, overwhelmed, Yuuri dropped his gaze to their hands and squeezed his eyes shut. Victor stroked his thumbs over the back of Yuuri's hands, a comforting gesture that did wonders in soothing away Yuuri's thoughts.

 

“I chose you, too,” Yuuri whispered, a secret between he and his mother when, one winter, Yuuri had been helplessly homesick and frustrated beyond measure by every thing and person that pulled Victor away whenever they managed to find time to spend together. She'd given him a choice: to return home now and back to its warm, familiar colors, or to stay the rest of the winter with Victor and his family and return later.

 

She hadn't spoken of any consequences then, had just asked which one he’d wanted, and Yuuri had been half a breath away from telling her home when he remembered Victor’s desperate promise of later, Yuuri, I'll find some time, so please wait a little longer .

 

“I… I'd like to stay,” Yuuri had quietly told her, ducking his head under her warm smile. “I want to spend time with Victor.”

 

“Then we'll stay,” she had said, and something about the way she had looked at him seemed like fond approval, like Yuuri had passed a test of sorts.

 

(She had never said, and Yuuri had never asked, but he thought, sometimes, that he wouldn't have ever seen Victor again if he'd chosen home.)

 

“Then…” Victor began, something achingly hopeful shining in his voice. “Will you… May I court you, Yuuri?”

 

Yuuri nodded. “Yes,” he whispered. He brought himself to look up at Victor’s brilliant eyes and managed to say, “but only if you let me court you, too.”

 

“Of course,” Victor breathed, smiling like Yuuri’s acceptance was the equivalent of all the world’s riches. Yuuri blushed under his gaze, and Victor hesitated for a moment before he asked, “Will you open my gift?”

 

The box in his hands was an unassuming white, tied together with a deep blue ribbon. Overall, it was plain by Victor’s standards, but Yuuri knew that it was only a cover to hide the surprise within it and felt a touch excited to open it. He stroked the silk ribbon with a thumb, wondering what it was that Victor gave him as his first official courting gift.

 

Victor’s hands slid away from his to fall by his sides. “Go on,” he urged, and despite it all, Yuuri could hear the faintest edge of nervousness in his voice.

 

Curious now, Yuuri carefully slid the ribbon away and opened the box. It was lined with velvet, and settled in it was a jeweled, golden collar. At its center, sapphires and garnets glimmered in the light, and smaller white diamonds were sprinkled around them. Embroidered near the back of the collar, on the inside where it would press right against the nape of Yuuri’s neck if he were to wear it, was the word Mine .

 

Yuuri flushed red from the tips of his ears all the way down to his chest.

 

“This - This was what you were talking about in your letters?” Yuuri stammered, flustered beyond words. He could hardly think with Victor’s obvious intent to claim him right in his trembling hands, and he bit his tongue and swallowed down the foreign whimper rising up his throat. “A… A collar?”

 

“Yes,” Victor said carefully. Yuuri could feel his eyes on him, searching his reaction as Yuuri reached for the collar. “I wanted to make it known that you were - that I was courting you.”

 

“Oh,” Yuuri breathed.

 

Collars themselves weren’t uncommon during courting, though because they solidified the fact that someone was being propositioned, and that that someone accepted the other as their mate, it wasn’t usually until in the end of the courting process that a collar was worn. For Yuuri to receive one now, as his first gift - that was Victor’s declaration, confident and unwavering:

 

He’s mine.

 

“You don’t have to wear it if it makes you uncomfortable,“ Victor started, only for Yuuri to cut him off.

 

“I will.” When he looked up from the collar to Victor’s wide eyes, Yuuri succumbed to the heat in his cheeks and asked a little more bashfully, “Can you help me put it on?”

 

“I’d love to.”

 

When Victor secured the collar around his neck, Yuuri felt warmth and sheer giddiness overtake him. He clutched at Victor’s hand, pressed it against the collar and slipped his fingers between his, smiling at him all the while.

 

“You’re beautiful,” Victor whispered, reverent, and he reached up with his free hand to cup Yuuri’s cheek. His gentle touch was enough to have Yuuri’s heart bursting. “I can’t wait to marry you.”

 

The heat rushing back to his face made Yuuri’s head dizzy. “We’ve only just started courting - “

 

“We’ve been courting each other ever since we were hardly taller than Papa’s shoulders,” Victor reminded him with a grin.

 

“That doesn’t count,” Yuuri retorted, then broke out into a smile when Victor pressed their foreheads together.

 

“I’ve spent years giving you gifts from my heart, Yuuri,” Victor said. “If that isn’t courting, then please, tell me what is.”

 

“Well,” Yuuri started, his smile going shy, “you can start with a kiss.”

 

Victor blinked, caught off-guard, before he laughed, bright and wonderful.

 

“Gladly,” he said, and swooped down to claim Yuuri’s lips.